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Just The Sports: 2008-06-01

Just The Sports

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

NBA Finals

Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics played each other twice during the regular season, and yes, the Celtics won both contests handily to the tune of an average victory margin of sixteen points, but one should exercise caution before using those two games to try to predict how the two teams will fare against each other. In fact, the Lakers and Celtics have almost played an entire regular season since last squaring off against each other. Including regular season and playoff contests, the Lakers have played sixty-six games without facing the Celtics and the Celtics have played seventy-three games without having to deal with the other most storied franchise in the NBA. Furthermore, the Lakers had not yet pulled off the trade heist for Pau Gasol nor had the Celtics signed a back-up point guard saboteur extraordinaire in Sam Cassell so the player rotations are not the same now as they were then. Basically, the two teams will have to re-learn how to play each other during the series.

Also, in order to predict the outcome of the series intelligently, it is important that we also know where the two teams stand since they last played. Both experienced great amounts of success in their successive games, but since they played last the Celtics have been slightly more dominant in their games. The Celtics outscored their competition by 8.5 points per 100 possessions. As impressive as that is, the Lakers were not far behind, outscoring their opponents 8.2 points per 100 possessions. There really is very little difference between how good these two teams were against their foes.

However, once we strip away from the two teams' schedules those NBA franchises that did not make the playoffs, we see that the Lakers and Celtics switch places in terms of their prowess on the court. Under those conditions, the Lakers outscored their opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions, but the Celtics decreased even further than that to 4.7 points per 100 possessions, meaning that against the cream of the crop, the Lakers are always a full point per 100 possessions better than the Celtics.

These numbers suggest that this will not be a blowout series by any stretch of the imagination. It will be closely contested, but the Lakers should prevail in the end thanks to the fact their level of play does not decline as much when playing against the best NBA teams, of which the Boston Celtics is one. Therefore, the Boston area should be prepared to watch another one of their professional franchises come up short in a championship format.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Josh Howard Missing His Best Friend

Team chemistry, inasmuch as making it imperative that teammates not only get along on the court or field but also off of it, is largely overrated, but this is not to say that there are no instances where certain players are better when they play with their friends. One such example of times where friends should be kept together for the sake of the team's success is Josh Howard and Devin Harris. Howard, who did have an off year this season by his standards, has been the recipient of too much criticism during this off-season. No matter how poorly he played during the Dallas Mavericks' playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets, he was still one of the three most valuable Maverick players during the regular season and would have had a better season except for one simple reason. Howard had to play more than half of his season without his best friend, Devin Harris, in the lineup and a little more than a third of his season without Harris being on the same team or in the same city.

It was not until I was watching the Dallas Mavericks square off against the New Orleans Hornets and listened to the interview of Devin Harris, who had been invited to the game at the behest of Josh Howard, that I even knew they were good friends. That is when it all came together for me. Surely a player of Josh Howard's caliber would not have a down year without a very good reason, and when I checked out the statistical data everything came together beautifully. Howard was not the same player when he was not playing with Harris.

When Harris was in the lineup alongside Josh Howard, Howard was vintage Howard. He had a 53.3% true shooting percentage on 20.6 points per game and was also rebounding at a respectable clip (12.4 rebound rate). Playing without his amigo, Harris, Howard limped his way to a true shooting percentage of 51.8% on 19.3 points per game. Furthermore, he couldn't even rebound as proficiently with only a 10.2 rebound rate. That decline alone speaks to the fact Howard had to have missed Harris, but the decline in his level of play becomes even steeper when Howard's season is split between the games before Harris was traded to the New Jersey Nets and after.

Before Harris was foolishly given to the Nets in exchange for an over-the-hill point guard, Harris was on fire for a perimeter-oriented player, having a 55.1 TS% and scoring 20.3 points per game in addition to a rebound rate of 11.9. Then Harris left and the bottom really fell out of Howard's game. He only shot 50.6 TS% to get his 19.2 points per game. Plus he forgot how to rebound as his post-Harris rebound rate of 9.9 demonstrates.

Let what happened to Josh Howard be a lesson to other franchises. While team chemistry is a volatile entity, hard to control or predict, when it comes to separating friends who are valuable to the team, avoid it at all costs. Right now, the best thing that could happen for Josh Howard is to be traded to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Richard Jefferson. In that way, Howard can be reunited with his favorite teammate and the Nets can get a star who can be offensively efficient while taking a larger share of the offensive load than Jefferson could handle.